Nerds and Geeks
So the other day I took my computer to Best Buy’s famed “Geek Squad” for repair. Leave aside the fact that they didn’t manage to repair it (apparently there was a motherboard problem; I’ve got a shiny new laptop being shipped to me now). They were a collection of nice, normal-looking young men and women. Their advertisement posters, however, were another story. In them, characters in horrible glasses, hiked up black polyester pants and white socks promised to fix your computer, rain or shine, “Sci-fi convention in town or not.”
Now, I suppose that Best Buy’s ad designers are using “geek” in an affectionate way, These are their colleagues, after all. Referring to these very normal-looking individuals as geeks is likely just a way to make the public think they’re competent when it comes to fixing computers.
Indeed, broadly, there seems to be a move by young people to reclaim words like “nerd” and “geek” and use them positively. I’ve been reading a number of articles recently on “nerd camp.” For three of my early teenage summers, I attended the Center for Talent Development’s summer camps at Northwestern University, studying geometry, computers and literature with gifted kids from all over the Midwest.
We never called it nerd camp. But now kids do so freely, telling reporters that’s what they call similar camps at Duke, Johns Hopkins and other universities.
When people reclaim words, they take some of the sting out of them. That’s a good thing. But I can’t help thinking that when gifted young people themselves use such words frequently, other people feel they’ve got a license to do so, too. As things tend to go, these names will then be aimed at younger gifted kids, particularly ones who haven’t made their peace with the whole thing yet. So while I grant that the Geek Squad is a great brand name, I wish they and the nerd-camp attendees would have come up with another way to talk about themselves.